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How We Saved Money On Our Disney World Vacation (and Had a Great Time As Well)

Disney Bucks

Some years back we needed to figure out where we wanted to go on vacation.

It was my wife, our 7-year-old daughter, our 7-month-old son, and myself.  Since our son was so young we wanted to keep the flights short.  (Back then there were four of us, now there’s six if you’re trying to keep track.)

We decided now would be a great time to go to Disney world!

Read on and you’ll find out why Disney World was a great destination at the time and how I went about researching the best prices and activities.  This is valuable stuff you’ll want to bookmark if you think you’ll ever go to Disney World.

Why Go To Disney World With Kids Those Ages?

Our daughter grew up on everything Disney.  It was almost disgusting (but in a good way, if that’s possible?).

There was a point when she was young when there would always be some Disney princess on the TV.  We knew she would have a great time and she was old enough to truly appreciate Disney World.  We were afraid that if we took her when she was younger she just wouldn’t appreciate and remember everything.  Sure it would have blown her delicate little mind to go there younger but we thought 7 was a better age to get around and to take it all in.

With our son we figured he was old enough to take on vacation but young enough still that he would spend most of his time in the stroller and not want to run around on his own.  Maybe that sounds strange but toddlers have varying moods of staying quietly in a stroller and being fiercely independent.  No, he wouldn’t really remember the trip but we didn’t think he’d appreciate it until he was older anyway.  The Summer of ’07 was our best window of opportunity to go to Disney World (at least until the little guy was older).  And besides, at that age most things were free for him anyway.  We weren’t spending money on something he was likely going to forget.  (OK, he was basically just coming along for the ride.)

Research, Research, and Some More Research

We knew Disney World could be expensive so we needed to do some research. 

OK, a LOT of research.  I spent many hours checking flipping through sites for info on where was good to stay and what was the best deal.

We started off with a recommendation from a friend: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids.

I checked it out on Amazon as well as at the local bookstore.  The book gives a nice detailed review of each park and their rides in DW and provides itineraries that you can use based on your children’s age.  It also gives suggestions on what rides to go on, when to see attractions, and general tips for having a good time in Orlando.

What I also liked was the reviews of all the local hotels, Disney and otherwise.  (There are a lot of hotels in the area to choose from!  You don’t have to stay at a Disney resort)  We compared the guide to similar books and liked this one the best (they also have The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World that doesn’t focus on kids).

We bought the book and I went into devouring all of the information. 

There is a LOT to see and do in Disney and the surrounding areas.  Having a guide book helped tremendously.

A big decision to make for a Disney World trip is whether to stay in a Disney resort or stay off site.  I had an idea of a couple of places where I wanted to stay.  Now to find rates!

I have to jump in for a second and tell you about a great resource site I found: Mousesavers.com

This site really gave us great info for Disney.  They tell you all about the different parks, hotels, vacation packages, various discount codes, freebies, specials, ride closings, etc…

If you plan on going on a Disney trip you should check out the site and sign up for their newsletter which has exclusive discounts.  The site really helped me get my head around all of the choices in a Disney World vacation.

Really, I can’t say enough good things about them.  They are a must-read if you plan to go to Disney World.

We used three main sources for our flight and hotel.

First we went to Liberty Travel agency to see what deals they have.  I like starting with them since some of their sales people are real knowledgeable on different vacations and occasionally they get really good packages.  Yes, travel agencies still have real value.  Sometimes.

Unfortunately the person we dealt with didn’t know a lot about Disney and couldn’t really tell us much.  Too bad for them.  (And travel agents wonder why their services are dying.)

Next was to look online.

We flipped back and forth between Expedia, the official Walt Disney World site, and Jet Blue.

Would the official Disney site be more expensive?

Not always.  And at least you can get an idea of what they are charging versus what other travel sites charge.

Originally we planned on Expedia for the hotel and Jet Blue for the flight (we heard so many good things about them, we wanted to try them).  I actually found a good deal for one of the Disney resort hotels on Expedia.  We were trying to book it but there was a computer glitch that wouldn’t let the reservation book.  Disappointed I poked around the Jet Blue site looking at flights.

I noticed that Jet Blue also had vacation packages!

I never knew that before (we never even flew them previously).

I started looking up the hotel I found on Expedia.  They had a similar deal but I actually found one that was better!  I found a great deal for the Hyatt Regency Grand Cyprus.  This is a four star hotel with a ridiculous amount of things to do including a giant pool with two waterslides (this will be important later on).

We jumped on the package which was 6 nights at the hotel and flights for the four of us on Jet Blue.  (When I checked into the hotel the clerk was actually surprised at the price we got the room for).

The hotel was in the Lake Buena Vista area.  They had some transportation to Disney parks but our best bet would be to rent a car.

Believe it or not the four main Disney parks aren’t all connected and next to each other.  Go figure!

A car would help us get around as well as give us more choices for eating.  The area we stayed had a number of other hotels and lots of food choices not Disney.  For example we actually went to Dunkin Donuts a few times to cut down on breakfast costs.  A car would also give us the opportunity to go to Target or Wal-Mart a few times to buy water and snacks (rather than buy them at the parks for much, much more).

So where to get a car?

We actually found some great discount codes on the Mousesavers site.  The one we ended up using was a flat fee for a mini-van at Dollar car rental for American Express card holders.  We paid less for a mini-van than we would have for many smaller cars.  Now we wouldn’t have to worry about installing our car seat (no climbing into a compact to figure it out) and we knew we would have enough room for our luggage and stroller.

This was really the best deal for us out there.

If you ever use Dollar I would suggest signing up for their Dollar Express program.  It can save you time at the rental counter as you get your own line (very important with two kids in tow)!

Let’s recap: Hotel – check; Flights – check; Car – check…what’s missing? 

Disney tickets!

Disney World is made up of four major theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom), two water parks, and a lot of other stuff!  We wanted to see the four main parks and we were considering the water parks.  Since our hotel had such a great pool with water slides we decided we could do without the water parks (wise decision since we would have seen less of the main parks if we went to the water parks).

So we needed tickets for the main parks.

There’s a lot of ticket options that I won’t go through here.  The option we did pick was the Park Hopper option which allowed us to go to more than one park a day (definite plus for us).  Again Mousesavers was a great help for ticket advice and discounts.  Through their newsletter you can get a code for a discount on the site Undercover Tourist which sells tickets to many different attractions.  We saved a lot through Undercover Tourist.  Their great price included taxes and were shipped free.

Did we have fun at Disney World?

Growing up I was never a Disney person.  Back then is was all classic Disney.  They didn’t have Star Wars or Marvel yet.

I always preferred Bugs Bunny to Mickey Mouse.  I figured we were going to Disney World mostly for our little princess.

But you know what?  It was a blast!  We went on roller coasters, rides, attractions, ate, swam…we really had a great time!

With two more kids in the family now we definitely want to go back.  We know they’ll have a great time.

The next time though, I would cut out Epcot (was kind of boring; the international food was interesting but not enough to carry the park) and Animal Kingdom (if you have a good zoo in your area, like we have with the Bronx Zoo, then you aren’t going to see too much new).

We would have spent more time at Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (maybe my favorite – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Muppets, stunt show).  We would have also spent more time at the hotel.  We didn’t even get a chance to take advantage of all of the activities in our hotel.

Was it the most frugal vacation we could have gone on?

No.  But it was well worth the money for the experiences we had (like my daughter saying “I lived!” after coming off of Space Mountain) and we found ways to save along the way.

Things to consider/to do if you’re planning a Disney World trip:

  • Check hotel/flight/car prices in a number of different places for the best price/package.
  • Check out Mousesavers.com – They really helped save money and they have great advice.
  • Get yourself a guide for the parks – There’s so much to do you really want to make sure you spend your time in the right places.  These days there are apps that can help you plan and keep track of the parks.
  • Consider renting a car and staying off the Disney resorts – You can get some great hotel deals and having a car gives you a lot of flexibility on food and supplies.  You can even add in attractions like Universal if you have a car.
  • But don’t think Disney Resorts are not worth it.  You can find great deals there from time to time and their meal packages are pretty decent.
  • If your child still uses a stroller bring along one that folds and rolls easily (we borrowed one from a neighbor).  Even with a car you’re still going to have to use Disney transportation to get from the parking lot to the park.  If your child is old enough for an umbrella stroller consider buying one in Orlando at Target or Wal-Mart.  You can rent a stroller in the Disney parks but I think it’s better to have your own.
  • Buy water and snacks at Target or Wal-Mart and bring it with you to the parks.  It gets hot and humid fast in Orlando and you need to keep hydrated.
  • Plan your day ahead/build an itinerary – Know where you want to go and what rides you want to go on for each day.  Some shows only play at certain times and some parks have later hours on different days.
  • With a Park Hopper pass you can split your day up and see one park in the morning, go back to your hotel and rest a bit, then see another park in the evening.  One night, after a nice afternoon siesta, we stayed until closing and got to see the last park parade of the day.  It was so much emptier than the earlier parades and we got to sit right up on the parade route.  Ursula, Little Mermaid for those not in the know, made my daughter jump about ten feet back when she talked right to us.

Finally

Disney World was loads of fun and the place is super efficient.  Really, I found the people working there to be some of the nicest I’ve seen (though the visitors aren’t always as nice).  Disney can be expensive but there are plenty of ways to save if you do your homework.

And the memories will last a lifetime!

Do you have any Disney World tips?

photo by idogcow

Murphy’s Law Of The Workplace

Work

Murphy’s Law – If anything can go wrong, it will.

How many times at work have you had a Murphy’s Law experience?  Just when it’s important that things go right something goes wrong.  Here are some of my workplace Murphy’s Law observations:

  • When you don’t check your email – That will be the time when the VP needs a report from you ASAP!
  • The day you don’t dress your best is the day you have a surprise meeting first thing in the morning.
  • And those meetings that start the day?  You’re going to be late for one through no fault of your own.  When you walk in everyone will stop for a second and look at you like you’ve missed the birth of your child.
  • That one time you “trust” a subordinate with a project and don’t go over it with a fine-tooth comb it ends up being wrong.  And your bosses see it.
  • You  make sure to do any web surfing during your lunch hour because your boss is a stickler for that.  The one time you don’t?  Your boss sneaks up behind you asking what you’re working on (or your boss’ boss sees you and tells your boss and you don’t even realize you got caught until you’re sitting in your boss’ office getting reamed).
  • That project that’s making you tear your hair out that you just can’t get your head around comes right before your performance review.
  • And that project that you absolutely aced; getting it done before the deadline and making your boss look great?  Right after your performance review.
  • Your child’s recital?  Same day as your huge presentation at work that you cannot miss.
  • The one time you click on that link that your buddy sent in an email?  Crash and burn!  You whole computer starts whacking out and less-than-appropriate sites start popping up on your screen (bonus is when your speakers are turned on).
  • The great vacation deal you found that’s only good for one week (or the family function you need to travel to) ends up being the same week your boss already planned to take off but didn’t mention to the staff.
  • Those personal copies you made or that fax you sent?  You left a few pages behind incriminating you.  Of course it was sensitive material like tax info or medical documents (or worse that resume you’ve been sending out).

So what do you do about it?

First – Accept that there will be a Murphy’s Law moment.  It’s inevitable.  Something will go wrong when you need it to go right.  When it does happen, regardless of the situation, look at it in a positive light.  Don’t throw around blame.  See if you can take the situation in a positive direction.  I once had a situation at work where a big screwup blew up and involved VP’s yelling at each other.  Rather than taking sides, my stance was to say “It’s great that this happened.  It exposed a big hole that we didn’t know was there.  We can now put a process into place so this doesn’t happen again.”  That attitude helped ease things over.

Second – The ‘ole Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared.  If something important is coming up, run through your head all of the things that can go wrong.  Trying to understand what can go wrong can help you build contingencies should Murphy’s Law strike.

How do you handle Murphy’s Law at work?  What’s happened to you?

photo by Yo Spiff

Customer Service Done Right 1800Contacts.com

Contact lenses in eyes

I needed to order new disposable contacts.

I realized I was on my last couple of pairs.  I didn’t want to go to my previous eye care provider since their salespeople, what’s the eloquent word?, oh yeah SUCK!  The past few times they have been pushy and do what they can to get you to commit to a purchase.  They speak all sorts of double speak when you ask about prices which just leaves you confused and fed up.  I’d like to think it was just me but my wife has experienced this as well.  I wasn’t going to give them my money again!

That brings me to 1800CONTACTS.com.

I heard all of the commercials and saw the ads online as well as heard great things about them from friends.  I had to at least look into them, right?

Right off the bat I saw two things that interested me: Free shipping on online orders over $50 and they price match against other sites and take off an additional 2%.

Now, I usually check out a price in a few locations but this gave me a real incentive!  Lo and behold I found my contacts on another site for much less.  I was now armed with a price to see if they would match it.

One option the 1800Contacts.com site gives you is to have one of their people call you.  You enter your phone number on the site and they call back.  I did it and immediately got a call with very little waiting.  A real person with little wait?  Another plus!  Ends up this person was located in Utah.

So I tell the woman that I was interested in ordering contacts and I saw a lower price on another site.  I waited a few moments while she looked it up.  (She apologized for the wait too, which wasn’t much.  Another plus).  She found the price and told me they would match it and take off an additional 2%.  We were now looking at a price for 8 boxes of contacts that was less than what 1800Contacts and my previous provider offered!  I’m real close to sold.

Remember that free shipping on online orders over $50?  So I’m on the phone, right?  Not online.  I mention the offer to the woman and she said that because they were price matching they could give me the free shipping too.  Nice!

The next step was to give her the prescription information on my contacts box and give the location of my previous provider who have my eye prescription on file (in New York your prescription is good for a year).  She looked up the location and told me they would contact them for verification.  Once that was done my contacts would ship out.

I felt really good doing business with them at this point.

The salesperson I spoke with was very clear and polite and did everything she could to help me out.  This was how customer service should be handled.  She even informed me that if my prescription should change I could return any unused contact to exchange with a new prescription.  Now I didn’t have to worry that I might get stuck with contacts if my eyes changed (my eye prescription has leveled out so I wasn’t too concerned about my prescription but I have had to change brands).  Now other places will take back an unopened box.  1800Contacts will take back any unopened contacts!  This could save some money if my prescription changed mid-box.

This was last night.  Today I received an email saying they contacted my old eye-care provider and were told that my prescription expired so they had to put my order on hold.

Remember how bad I told you the old provider was?  They just didn’t want to give up my business.  I knew my prescription was still good so I called up 1800Contacts to see what could be done.  The new person I spoke to looked at my account and explained the situation.  She then asked if I would mind being put on hold while she called my old provider.  “Sure,” I said.  I could always hang up and call back if it took too long.  A couple of minutes later the woman came back on and said that my old provider had made a “mistake” (the mistake was bad service to begin with) and my prescription was indeed still good!  They were giving 1800Contacts a hard time but the salesperson would follow up and get the prescription.  For the trouble, she was going to upgrade my shipping, which was already free, to next-day shipping!  Now I’m getting my contacts faster!

This, my friends, is customer service done right!

Let’s recap the positives here:

  • They price-matched and took off an additional 2%
  • They gave me free standard shipping
  • They were pleasant and helpful at all times
  • They took care of obtaining my prescription for me
  • When there was a problem they let me know about it then resolved it
  • I was upgraded to next-day shipping for my trouble (which wasn’t really trouble at all)
  • Both customer service salespeople spoke excellent English and I didn’t have to repeat myself once! I’m all for cost-cutting but some call centers outside of the US have people that are very hard to communicate with. It may be cheaper for the company that uses them but it makes for a frustrating customer experience!

There are always options these days.  We don’t have to settle for bad customer service!

What companies do you know have great customer service?

photo by Baston

Will The Economic Stimulus Payments Have To Be Paid Back

Will you have to pay the Economic Stimulus back?

Now that many have already received their economic stimulus payments, and have figured out what to do with it, I’m seeing a lot of questions asking “Will the stimulus payment need to be paid back?”

The quick answer is no. According to the IRS the economic stimulus payment is not taxable and will not reduce what you may be owed in a tax refund for 2008 (filed in 2009). In fact it’s possible that you get more back next year, if you didn’t already get the maximum, based on next year’s return. See the amount was based on your 2007 return so if you didn’t qualify for the full amount you may still qualify for the difference based on your 2008 return. Don’t worry if you received the full amount already. No matter what your 2008 return says you won’t have to pay anything back.

Now the the longer answer – You are going to have to pay back the economic stimulus payment! In some way, shape, or form we will pay that back. The money has to come from somewhere.

Let’s look at the ways in which the gov’t receives income:

  • Taxes (from income and corporate taxes).
  • Loans (in the forms of government backed securities such as bonds, bills, and notes).
  • Printing more money in the treasury.

Which do you think the money will come from? Printing money sounds like an easy way to find the dough but it’s not a policy the US uses due to the fact that more money creates inflation (Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon – thank you Milton Friedman). And who wants even higher prices?!? We can issue more loans. Did you know that in 2006 we paid $406 Billion in interest payments on loans made to cover the national debt? Where does that money come from? See above. So that leaves us with taxes.

Yes, I believe we will be paying back the economic stimulus payments in the form of taxes. It may not be as one lump sum like we received it but it will be paid out. It’s just lumped together with the rest of the national debt.

Could this be avoided? Maybe. But only if the national debt, which is over $9 Trillion, is reduced to zero in our lifetimes. This would mean that government would have to cut back it’s size and spending. Most likely many programs that help people would fall victim to the cuts. I’m not saying it’s impossible for this to happen, just improbable. I hope I’m wrong.

Of course another way to look at it is it won’t be us but our kid’s generation that will pay it back. I’m not too sure that’s a positive spin on it though.

So there you have it! Do we have to pay the economic stimulus payments back?

No, but yes.

What do you think?

Update: There has been a lot of confusion over paying the Economic Stimulus Payment back.  Please read Paying Back the Economic Stimulus – Lots of Tax Confusion for more information and clarification!

photo by Refracted Moments

Buy That Fun Stuff Without Going Into Debt

Cash Register

You want to buy that new something.

Maybe it’s the Nintendo Wii and the Wii Fit?  Maybe it’s a new digital camera?  Perhaps it’s a new flat-screen TV or a GPS?  You can’t afford to buy it out-right.  If you charge it to a credit card you will be paying interest on top of the price of the item.

What if there was a way to buy the item and earn interest?  What if we can help make sure you buy it at a great price?

Sounds interesting right?

I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.  First off I have to tell we’re going to wait to buy this item.  Bummer I know.  You want it now.  But you don’t have the cash and paying interest on it, as well as being in debt, isn’t a great option.  Deal with it.

We’re trying to be responsible here and still get our new thingamajig.

Do you have an online savings account that allows you to create sub-accounts?  Good.  Now go into your account and create a sub-account titled Thingamajig (or whatever it is that you want to buy).  This is where you are going to save your money.

Now what amount of money can you put away into this account monthly without hurting your budget?  Can you cut back on Starbucks or something similar every week?  What would you expect to pay on your credit card if you charged it?  That’s a good amount to start with too.

Figure out how much a week this comes out to.  Go back to that sub-account.  We’re going to set up an automatic, weekly withdrawal into this account.  Why weekly?  This way you can see the money building up quicker.  I don’t want you getting impatient waiting for a monthly addition to the account.

Now we wait until the account fills up with the cost of your thingamajig!  This can be tough as you’ll test your patience but it will pay off.  Resist cashing out until you have the full amount to cover the purchase (you calculated taxes, accessories, possible warranty, delivery, etc…into your cost already, right?).

Here’s where this plan is great:

  • You earn interest while you save! – Every month you save you’re helping yourself with the interest you are earning rather than paying a credit card company interest for the privilege of using their money!
  • You now have time to do research - Go check out the thingamajig in a few different stores and ask the salespeople about the item. Go online and read consumer reactions. Check everyone’s price and see what locations give you the most bang for your buck (do some throw in accessories or have better return policies should something not work?).
  • A new improved model may come out – In the time you’re saving you may find that a better version has come out. Maybe the first was discontinued. Technology changes rapidly. today’s top of the line cell phone could be a clunker after a little while. It could be another company now has a better product.
  • The price could drop – Look at that. Now the thingamajig isn’t even as expensive as it was. You’ve earned interest and saved on the cost!
  • You may find you don’t want it anymore – This may sound crazy but in giving yourself some time to save and watching your savings grow you may not feel the thingamajig is worth the money anymore. Maybe it was just a fad that’s already faded? Either way, you now have a little extra to add to your savings. Sweet!
  • You became more responsible with your money - You didn’t go into debt buying your thingamajig. You set up a savings plan and stuck to it. You might have even looked at your expenses and found some things you didn’t really need in order to save quicker. What you were saving is now extra savings for you if you choose after you buy your thingamajig!

There you go!  You got your thingamjig, you didn’t go into debt, you earned interest to help pay for it, and you got the best possible price for it.

I bet it’ll feel good when you get home and open it up!

photo by skippy13

Five Things Indiana Jones Can Teach Us About Personal Finance

Indiana Jones Lego

I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (among all the prior movies).

Was it as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark?  How many movies are?

Was it a lot of fun to watch? Absolutely!

I got to thinking about ‘ole Indy.  What makes him successful in his movies?  What is it about him that keeps him coming out ahead?  And can those qualities be translated to personal finance?

Here are five things I think Indiana Jones can teach us about personal finance:

Indiana Jones doesn’t need a lot of stuff

When he goes off on an adventure he has a few items: His whip, hat, jacket, side bag, boots, pants, shirt, gun holster, and notebook.  This is basically his adventure “uniform” and it doesn’t change.  Indy makes do with what he has and makes his stuff last.  Ever see him buy a new hat?  How about shiny new boots?

How this translates for us: Find out what you need in your life.  Note the word “need” and not want.  Don’t clutter your life with stuff.  Stuff takes up space and uses up money. Also it usually pays to buy quality when you can. If you take care of a good item it can last many years (like a trusty fedora hat).

Indiana Jones has focus and persistence

When he has a goal he goes after it with all of his focus until he can’t continue any more.  Do Nazis stop him?  Angry cult member?  Communists?  Even his enemies recognize this quality in Indy.  Think of the times he’s been caught, kidnapped, or blackmailed into helping the enemy.  Indiana Jones is the go-to guy if you want an artifact found.

How this translates for us: Create personal finance goals and stick to them.  Are your goals worth fighting for?  Will you retire?  Will you be financially independent?  Develop persistence and focus to stay on track with your goals and complete them.

He’s daring, brave, and well educated

There’s times where Indy is doing some crazy things (climbing into an archaeological dig surrounded by Nazis anyone?).   What keeps Indy afloat when he goes off on a daring adventure?  Luck has a bit to do with it.  But it’s his education that tempers bravado. R emember, not only is Indiana Jones an adventurer he’s also a doctor of archeology that teaches at the university level (and a Boy Scout).  A big part of why he’s successful in his adventures is because he’s already done extensive research on what he’s going after.  As wild as he sometimes seems he doesn’t blindly go off looking for adventure.  He’s put years into learning his subject.

How this translates for us: Don’t blindly make investments or make purchases without out doing your homework first.  Educate yourself about personal finance.  Keep learning.  Know why you are putting money into an investment and understand what the risks are going in.  When making a major purchase study up on different brands and their reliability and consumer responses.  Try to find the best value and price (maybe you can pick up a really good hat).

He carries a notebook full of information

We see Indy go back to small notebooks all the time.  Whether it’s looking up a map or deciphering a language, he keeps notes on all his research.

How this translates for us: Keep your own notebook.  Track your expenses to see where your money is going.  Keep notes of things you did that saved money.  Make to do lists to stay on top of your life.  Write out grocery lists so you only buy what you planned on.  And these days there are so many apps out there for notes that you can’t use not wanting to carry a notebook as an excuse.

He tries to do the right thing

There are many times Indy can get quick cash by obtaining an artifact and selling it.  But he doesn’t.  He tries to do the right thing.  Whether it’s saving children from slavery or keeping biblical artifacts from Nazis, Indy does the right thing.

How this translates for us: Act right in your life.  Don’t lie to your spouse about finances however small the lie may be.  Don’t take part in get rich quick scams – they don’t work.

There you have it. Five ways we can learn about personal finance from Indiana Jones.

Can you think of any more?

photo by Gaetan Lee

15 Things To Do With Your Economic Stimulus Check

The government Stimulus checks started going out on April 28th. If you are expecting one you should start looking for it in May (here’s a post listing the dates).

So what are you going to do with the extra money? Here are a list of ideas for using your stimulus check:

  • Pay off credit cards – If you have any credit card debt the stimulus check will be a great way knock some of that out! Paying off the debt gives you an instant return in savings of whatever you would have paid in interest fees. Psychologically, you will help in getting the debt monkey off your back.
  • Contribute to a Roth IRA – You can take your money and put it into your Roth IRA. For 2008 the contribution limit is $5000.
  • Start an emergency fund – If you don’t already have some sort of emergency fund (three to six months expenses seems to be the conventional wisdom) then your stimulus check is a good way to start one. Even if you have one you can use the money to increase your fund. A great place to start one is with ING Direct (you can even get a $25 bonus by opening your account with $250).
  • Contribute to a 529 college savings plan – You can use the money to help save for your kid’s education by putting the money in a 529 plan. Not only do you help save for college but you might get a tax break as well depending on your home state’s plan.
  • Pre-pay your mortgage – Take the money and make additional payments to your mortgage. By making additional payments you will own your home faster and pay less in interest. Just make sure the payments go towards the loan principle and not next month’s payment (also check that your lender will accept pre-payments without fees or penalties).
  • Go on vacation – You may have been planning to do this anyway so here is a good way to fund the vacation. Go and do something that will be a great experience for the family that you will all remember.
  • Improve the house – If there’s something you’ve needed to improve on your home, such as a furnace, you can use your stimulus check to pay for it (or at least help). Other options could be new paint job, carpet, furniture, appliances, etc…
  • Car maintenance – Have you been putting off a car repair? Need new brakes? New tires? Your stimulus money can fund it. If your car is about to go kaput your stimulus check could help pay for a new car (or a good new used car).
  • Learn to invest – Do some research and take the money and start investing. Companies such as Sharebuilder and Zecco offer low-fee investing. You have to do your homework with this option but it might be just enough money to start investing but not so much that you will be crazy worrying if you lose it. If you invest through Sharebuilder you can buy partial shares of Berkshire Hathaway B class shares. I hear that Warren Buffett is pretty good at investing.
  • Pay off student loans – If you have high interest student loans then your stimulus check can be a great way to help pay your student loans off. Just like with credit cards paying off your high interest student loans give you the instant return in savings of what you would have paid in interest.
  • Have a nice evening out – Take your spouse out to a really great meal. Get babysitting and go to that great restaurant you wanted to try. Go see that new show that everyone’s talking about. Make an experience you will always remember.
  • Get physically fit – The stimulus check should be enough to pay for a year’s gym membership (or more than a year). Use the stimulus check as a catalyst to get in shape and make your life healthier. Not sure about a gym? Find a class such as yoga or martial arts to join. Not into that? Buy a new bike and go riding. Or get yourself some good running sneakers and running attire. Join your local running club and enter a few small races. You never know, you may one day run a marathon.
  • Go to school – Use your stimulus check to enroll in a college course or two. This can be toward a degree or just continuing education. Hey, you can take a personal finance course. Maybe learn a second language?
  • Do nothing – This is the easiest of them all. Put the money in your savings account and forget about it. You don’t have to spend it or find any particular purpose for it. It doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. One day you might find a good use for it but for now it adds to your savings.

Personally, we’re closer to the Do Nothing suggestion. Our stimulus check will come via direct deposit right into our ING account. We have no specific plans for the money so it will be added into our savings. Our check may pay parts of many of the suggestions or for none of them. Either way it will earn interest until it finds a home somewhere else.

Do you have any other ideas for using the economic stimulus check?

photo by Argenberg
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